By Lee Harding May 29, 2022
Thirteen lawyers have sent a complaint letter to the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) about comments made by Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner regarding the trucker convoy that staged large-scale protests against COVID-19 mandates in downtown Ottawa earlier this year.
The seven-page letter quotes a full page of excerpts from an April 9 Le Devoir article in which Wager said the convoy was “the beginning of anarchy where some people have decided to take other citizens hostage, to take the law into their own hands, not to respect the mechanism. … That, I find that worrying.”
Wagner characterized the convoy protests as a “circumstance that could undermine our principles such as judicial independence, the rule of law, institutions.” He said the protests included people of “good faith” but also others who were “remotely guided” with “misunderstanding” and “a certain ignorance” of the rule of law, and who were seeking to bypass the political “system.”
“It doesn’t inspire good feelings in me. I find that disturbing,” Wagner said.
The Le Devoir article adds, “Forced blows against the state, justice and democratic institutions like the one delivered by protesters to the doors of the Prime Minister’s office and … the Supreme Court of Canada … must be denounced with force, and this, by all the figures of power in the country, believes Mr. Wagner.”
‘Appearance of Partiality’
In February 2022, four groups filed notices of application with the Federal Court to review all matters related to the trucker convoy to determine whether the invocation of the Emergencies Act was justified. The lawyers expressed concern over the possibility that one or more of those applications may reach the Supreme Court and be heard before Wagner.
“[T]he Chief Justice’s views expressed in the Le Devoir article fit within the legal definition of a reasonable apprehension of bias and an appearance of partiality. We submit that the Chief Justice’s remarks will undermine Canadians’ confidence in the independence of the Supreme Court of Canada in particular, and in the judiciary, generally,” the lawyers’ letter read.
“We further submit that the confidence of the litigants in the capacity of the judicial system to impartially and fairly determine the issues raised in the four (4) Notices of Application filed, plus any other Notices of Applications to be filed, will be undermined.”
In their letter, the lawyers cited the CJC’s own Ethical Principles for Judges, whose latest edition was published in 2021. The principles are written for federally appointed judges, including those on the Supreme Court of Canada.
The principles say that judges must “ensure that their conduct at all times maintains and enhances confidence in their impartiality and that of the judiciary” and “avoid using words or conduct, in and out of court, that might give rise to a reasonable perception of bias.”
The letter also cited a section from a United Nations publication titled “Commentary on the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct.”
“A judge should not involve himself or herself inappropriately in public controversies,” the commentary said.
“If a judge enters the political arena and participates in public debates—either by expressing opinions on controversial subjects, [or] entering into disputes with public figures in the community, … he or she will not be seen to be acting judicially when presiding as a judge in court.”
The Epoch Times reached out to Wagner for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.
Queen’s University law professor Bruce Pardy was one of the signatories, as was lawyer Keith Wilson, who has represented some of the Freedom Convoy protest participants.
The CJC is composed of Canada’s 41 chief justices and associate chief justices. It is chaired by Chief Justice Wagner himself. It was created in 1971, partly in response to the case of a judge who was charged with a criminal offence but the charges were later dismissed.
Since 1990, the CJC has heard 15 complaints. The last one was made in 2017 against Superior Court of Ontario Justice Frank Newbould. Newbould announced his retirement two days after the CJC concluded that an inquiry should be launched, leading to termination of the proceedings.